“Stick to sports.”
Man, how antiquated of a phrase does that sound right now, even though it was only just a few years ago that media pundits, conservatives, and a certain four-letter sports network viewed it as gospel?
Sports has always, and will always, be an agent of change. And just weeks after we watched athletes use their platforms, influence, money, and power to sway political elections at both local and national levels, we could be on the verge of athletes playing a huge role in easing the fears of those that are skeptical of the coronavirus vaccine.
“I’m going to get the COVID vaccine shot — it will keep me safe, keep my family safe and keep other people safe, said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after he participated in a PSA about the vaccine. “Wearing masks is important, and to get the vaccine does give you an added level of assurance.
“Science-wise, it’s a no-brainer,” he explained. “It’s the right thing to do so we can all get on track again. Let’s do this together.”
Popovich, who just turned 72, is within the age group that is getting access to the vaccine first, along with health care and essential workers. That group also includes 73-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has been advocating for athletes to promote the vaccine.
“From what I’ve seen, the vaccination is much less worse than the virus,” he recently said on CNBC. “So, we have to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And I hope every effort toward that end is fruitful.”
But beyond Abdul-Jabbar speaking to your average conspiracy theorist, his value here is in the fact that he’s saying this as someone who understands the hesitancy of African-Americans to participate in a vaccination program, which is largely due to the Tuskegee Experiment, a government-sanctioned operation that used Black men as medical guinea pigs by injecting them with syphilis and leaving them untreated for 40 years, all under the lie of providing free health care.
“That took a terrible toll on the issue of trust with the Black community,” Abdul-Jabbar explained. “We have to overcome that, and we have to get past that moment. The more people who can get on board with promoting vaccinations will definitely help change that and put that in a positive light.”
Watching as Popovich trusts science and Abdul-Jabbar is speaking to the historical aspects that Tuskegee still has on millions of African-Americas shouldn’t be overlooked. But what should be ignored is when willfully ignorant people like Charles Barkley get on TV and make insensitive remarks because they think athletes should jump the vaccine line while over 400,000 Americans have died due to COVID.
“Three hundred million shots, give a thousand to some NBA players, NFL players, hockey players,” stated the idiot last month on Inside the NBA.
“Listen, as much taxes as these players pay — let me repeat that — as much taxes as these players pay, they deserve some preferential treatment.”
Fortunately, Barkley is in the minority, as sports is attempting to find ways to be on the right side of history. Last November, the Golden State Warriors revealed that they had been working on a plan since last March and were willing to spend $30 million on a rapid test that could detect traces of the virus within 15 minutes, in hopes of allowing fans in stadiums across the nation. And while San Francisco ultimately rejected the Warriors’ plans, it was an example of what could be safely accomplished when the money and ingenuity of the sports world work together for the greater good.
Sports are fueled by athletes just as much as they are by fans. And if our sports ever return to normal, it will probably be because athletes played a huge role in encouraging the general public to get the vaccine.